The Institute of Fine Arts is pleased to announce its spring exhibition, Avital Meshi: Subverting the Algorithmic Gaze. The exhibition continues the Great Hall Exhibition series’ commitment to celebrating the contributions of exemplary women artists. It is the second in the series to take place online. The exhibition will be on view on the Institute’s website from March 28 – June 21.
New media artist Avital Meshi combines performance and algorithmic activism in her work. She interrogates what it means to be observed by software with identifying capabilities. Using her body and the bodies of those around her, she interacts with and tries to override systems that can be seen as promoting a “modern phrenology.” In her interactive AI performance Techno-Schizo, Meshi changes her hairstyle and facial expressions to highlight how the confidence level of the program she uses can be altered. As she moves her face, hands, and hair, the system continually tries–and fails–to classify her correctly, underscoring the limitations of facial recognition systems that often have higher error rates with minorities and people of color. Similarly, in The New Vitruvian, Meshi interacts with the algorithm using a chair as a prop. Crossing the porous boundary that defines how human or non-human one appears in the eyes of the program, she moves with the chair and finds herself identified as a person, a horse, a cat, a refrigerator, and a chair, among other animate and inanimate objects. To allow visitors to experience this classification for themselves, Meshi will operate several sessions of her interactive artificial intelligence artwork, The AI Human Training Center, during the run of the exhibition.
In the endurance performance ZEN A.I. (created in collaboration with transdisciplinary performer Treyden Chiaravalloti), Meshi meditates with the help of two programs. The first of these monitors her and the room in which she sits while constantly classifying her and the objects around her. The other delivers a stream of sometimes ominous, sometimes laughable, instructions to guide her practice. Although this piece initially appears humorous, Meshi’s contrived environment—replete with screens depicting burning candles and message notifications—becomes a dystopian space of constant surveillance and direction. However, Meshi consents to this obvious monitoring to encourage the viewer to become more conscious, as she puts it, of “our current hyper-connected environment in which an asymmetrical, nonconsensual algorithmic gaze exposes our society to discriminatory practices.” Only by gaining greater awareness of the monitoring systems embedded in everyday devices and in the public sphere, and of their use and abuse by government and security agencies, can people hope to bring equity to a growing and problematic form of surveillance.
Meshi’s work invites people to see that they can reclaim agency over technology. It provokes conversations around identity and identity transformation, surveillance, recognition, and classification. As the artist states, it is crucial to recognize “the technosphere as a natural phenomenon not dissimilar to thoughts, or gravity… Acknowledging algorithms as such gives the conscious observer autonomy over the regulation of their impact.”